Modern Marketing

How banks are promoting Zelle

  • How banks position Zelle within their individual mobile banking experiences is just as important for promoting it as TV ads
  • Most banks and credit unions partnering with Zelle probably won’t even be able to afford that kind of marketing and will still need to do their part to promote it -- because success for Zelle ensures success for the bank brand
How banks are promoting Zelle

How banks promote Zelle is about more than television ad campaigns.

This year Chase and Wells Fargo have launched 15- and 30-second commercials advertising Zelle, the peer-to-peer payments offering built right into banks’ mobile apps. Zelle itself has even launched a couple of spots, one featuring Hamilton star Daveed Diggs.

Smaller banks that can’t afford national commercials, however, will need to promote Zelle in their existing products, their mobile banking apps, and perhaps take a page from fintech startups’ marketing playbook and design their apps in such a way that the product does the selling for them. That’s according to a new report by Javelin Strategy on Zelle’s rollout; that it emphasizes within its own mobile banking experience that a product called Zelle exists and communicates the benefits of using it and the reasons its better than competitors like Venmo or Square Cash.

“Banks are doing a lot of things right but this is not an easy thing to introduce,” said Mark Schwanhausser, director of the digital banking practice at Javelin and the author of the report. “It’s not a simple feature you can roll out and say ‘try it.’ Explaining all these things means you have to prioritize because there just isn’t enough time so you have to be very selective… I don’t envy bank marketers who have to try to figure out how to in 15 seconds give an elevator pitch.”

Banks and credit unions on the Zelle network should focus on setting expectations for new users’ first enrollment periods and first transactions. Typically, they only bring information to the customer once they or new recipients are finally in the system. But first experiences haven’t gone smoothly, according to some Javelin secret shoppers. First transactions have caught people by surprise; some get an email or text saying someone sent them money but that they weren’t enrolled yet.

“You have to be sure those people know where to go and find out where it works,” Schwanhausser said. “If you’re sending it for the first time you have to have an expectation that this could take a couple days with the first transaction. There’s a legitimate reason for it — it’s for security reasons — but if you have it in your head as a consumer that all payments will be practically instantaneous but your first one takes two or three business days you’ll be scratching your head.”

Zelle has many practical benefits to tout: Users can send money through their mobile phone and within their existing mobile banking app (though the question of how many people actually use their mobile banking app remains), the process is simple, the recipient receives the funds in minutes, the service is backed by banks versus non-banks and is as a result a safe and secure alternative to checks or cash, customers can split or send money with just a phone number or email address and to almost anyone with a U.S. bank account — for free.

Various TV spots by Zelle demonstrate or explain most of those things, but banks’ TV spots tend to focus on the speed, ease and fact that the service lives within the banks’ mobile apps as they try to sell Zelle while promoting their own brand. Upon examining eight videos and TV spots, Javelin found just 75 percent of the ads mention that Zelle lives in users’ mobile banking apps, 63 percent of them mention that Zelle lets users request as well as send payments and 50 percent identify Zelle as a bank versus a non-bank service. Though five of those were Zelle ads, one of which was the 90-second “How Zelle Works” video.

“Zelle’s new national ad campaign is designed to increase awareness of Zelle as a fast, safe, and easy way to send money to friends and family that’s available in the banking app you already have and trust,” said Melissa Lowry, vp of marketing and branding for Early Warning, the company behind the Zelle network. “The campaign complements the efforts of our financial institution partners as they target their digital customer base to promote using Zelle within their existing mobile banking app.”

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Only 25 percent convey that Zelle is free or that it only requires an email or cell phone number, and only 38 percent convey that users can send it to anyone with a U.S. bank account, even if they bank at a different institution than the sender.

However, within those mobile apps, banks are positioning Zelle a little more prominently. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and USAA are all examples of different banks that have chosen to show customers they can send money with Zelle. Bank of America more clearly shows users they also have the options to split or request money. Chase has chosen to rebrand its existing peer-to-peer payment service, Chase Quick Pay, by adding the Zelle name at the end of it and offering customers the option to “QuickPay with Zelle.” SunTrust has changed platforms entirely from PopMoney to Zelle.

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“Banks need to cooperate to have a consistent expereince, to try to make sure the Zelle network has an opportunity to succeed,” Schwanhausser said. “If it doesn’t the whole industry suffers.”

Down the road the challenge will be for banks to show that they can offer customers competitive and differentiated products, but for now, just getting the Zelle name familiar with U.S. consumers is a big job. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, Schwanhausser said, it just depends on each individual brand.

“For now they’ll make Zelle very prominent or use their name ‘powered by Zelle,’ in the case of Chase. Other banks will flip flop and with to Zelle and get that name resonating with people.”

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